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Friday, March 4, 2016

"When Anything Goes" (Leslie Williams)

TITLE: When Anything Goes: Being Christian in a Post-Christian World
AUTHOR: Leslie Williams
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2016, (208 pages).

We are living in a post-Christian era. It is an era of 70% Americans calling themselves Christians but the culture is nowhere near being Christian. It is a neo-scientific, new age, new heresies, new global polarizations, pluralism, secular and humanist philosophies. Universities are secularized, even those with Christian beginnings. People nowadays have largely forgotten what Christianity really means despite their ancestors link with Christianity. From the point of view of Leslie Williams, an English professor, she observes that the generation of young people now have lost sense of biblical references in literature, biblical origins of law and cultural symbols, and a general loss of influence of Christianity. Instead of a book of apologetics that react or respond against anti-Christian cultural claims, this book is more about the author's personal narrative of what it means to be a Christian in a post-Christian world. The underlying conviction is that God is not only alive and well, God is still redeeming us from the follies and bad decisions we make.

Leslie Williams is an English Professor at Midland College for over 20 years. She lives in Kerrville, Texas with her husband. Writing with a personal voice about "real life," Williams warns at the outset that this book will not have any "scholar's voice," "theories," or theological jargon. Not exactly "anything goes" technically speaking. She is probably trying to appeal to that segment of readers who prefer a down to earth language and response to a world that is increasingly anti-Christian. Believing that Christianity is for everyone, Williams uses rhetoric, literature, and her own personal journey as a way to show us that God is anything but "dead." Culture is a strange thing. We are immersed and influenced by it. Unless we live with intention, we will be swept along by the waves. Williams uses a type of reasoning that is more understandable in this day and age. She avoids difficult concepts like "soul," and ideas like people believing in Jesus simply because the Bible tells them so. In a culture where anything goes, it is important to recognize that existing culture is incapable of substituting the present for what Christianity had done for the people in the past. It is unfortunate that some people have thrown out the baby with the bathwater when reacting against the excesses of radicalism in various religions. This book of narrative is Williams's approach to defending the Christian faith. She uses nine broad strokes to explain why Christianity matters.

First, on the topic of origin, we are created by a loving God. This belief is not merely to be accepted at face value but to be encountered up close and personal. Like the red sun up in the sky. It does not exist simply because we reasoned it there. It exists simply because it is there! By going all the way back to the beginning, Williams tackles the Big Bang Theory in saying that it is chiefly a "scientific observation" made by scientists with "many unanswered questions." With the changing discoveries and assumptions in the sciences, she argues that the deeper human need is not for proof to satisfy one's curiosity but the "proof itself" to explain itself. She goes on to point out several similarities between the Big Bang Theory and the Creation narrative. Both being somewhere back in time, the former only a recent discovery that could be disproved with more scientific evidence. Using Dante's The Divine Comedy, and comparisons with other theories like Stephen Hawking's, she finds that with both science and experience considered, the most reasonable and comforting is the creation narrative.

Second, she tackles the topic of meaning, delving into brain sciences, nihilistic thoughts, and her own experience with deconstructing. She learns quickly the importance of finding significance, establishing meaning, present reality, and patience to discover new insights to come. She even takes inspiration from articles from National Geographic! An important point she makes is that disappointment and suffering is real and to be expected. It is the love of God that will lead one through.

Third, we are limited in more ways that we may think. God is way bigger than how we think, process, and live. The best of intentions cannot guarantee the best of results. Reflecting on Dante's writings, she learns about the three problems with misused loved: 1) too much; 2) too little; and 3) the wrong object. Fourth, she reflects on the person of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the cultural renditions of who deity could be. Despite accusations by others for making the Christian faith overly simplistic, she continues to cling on to the belief because not to believe is the worse option. Fifth, things of faith are sometimes more felt and admired than seen or analyzed. She ponders on the work and person of the Holy Spirit, sharing that it is a significant manner in which God is walking with us when on this earth. Six, she turns her attention to Church. She notes how the image of the Church have been negatively painted by the mass media that tries to portray the Church as some institution dominated by priests infatuated with young boys. Such lopsided views do injustice to the tremendous amount of good work done in society by Church people. The good news is that others may try to dumb down the Church, but the Church is still standing firm and strong after more than 2000 years. Church is for the most part family, and we are all made better people because of it. Seven, she looks at the area of life and control. How much do we determine our own lives? History is strewn with broken pieces of people who in trying to control their own lives end up worse. They even try to control other people. We are what we choose and often, amid the plethora of choices, we do not know how to choose well. Eight, she reflects on her childhood years, how our initial innocence gradually descends into falsehood in the world. With the need for self-justification leading to symptoms of self-righteousness, people become the worse versions of themselves. That is the consequence of sin. Nine, she visits the topic of forgiveness, something that we as humans need most.

This is a very simple form of apologetics that follows the train of thought of an honest seeker. Without the heavy use of citations and scholarly quips, the book should appeal to a wide range of readers. Even the use of literature is minimized in favour of her main flow of sharing from personal experience. There are insights, questions, and conclusions on what are the things that truly matter to her. The nine summaries I have gleaned above are some of the pertinent observations I have. The strength of this book is in the honesty that the author offers. She invites curiosity and affirms basic beliefs without being too dogmatic. After all, if it is a personal statement of faith, who can argue against that? Thus, this book is more like a personal narrative rather than an apologetics. That said, she does give us a list of resources for those interested in more apologetics. The way that she approaches this book does not have some kind of a rigid structure. Readers will appreciate the ease in which she meanders with cultural norms and guides one toward some basic beliefs we need while on this earth. This lack of framework can be a strength as well as a weakness. It is good in the way because it reads less like a text and more as a narrative. It is bad in the sense that those looking forward to a systematic treatment of apologetics will have to build their own framework. Having said that, there is definitely a place for a book like this, that marries the best of personal faith journeys and apologetics for the lay person.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Abingdon Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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